Sunday, March 15, 2015

CSI: Cyber - Season 1, Episode 1 - "Kidnapping 2.0"

"Kidnapping 2.0" is the 1st episode of the 1st Season of CSI: Cyber featuring Patricia Arquette as Dr. Avery Ryan, James Van Der Beek as Elijah Mundo, Peter MacNicol as Simon Sifter, Shad Moss as Brody Nelson, Charley Koontz as Daniel Krumitz, and Hayley Kiyoko as Raven Ramirez.

In this post, I'm going to review some of the computer science aspects of the episode. I realise that for the sake of clarity or entertainment the representation of technology can't always be realistic, but I think the CSI production are doing a good job within those constraints.

This episode features the abduction of babies using wireless babycams.








CSI: Cyber - Season 1, Episode 0 - "Kitty"

CSI: Cyber started as a backdoor pilot in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. "Kitty" is the 21st episode of the 14th Season of CSI featured Patricia Arquette as Dr. Avery Ryan helping D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) investigate the murder of a casino owner's wife.

In this post, I'm going to review some of the computer science aspects of the episode. I realise that for the sake of clarity or entertainment the representation of technology can't always be realistic, but I think the CSI production are doing a good job within those constraints.

This episode features a murder in a smart home. A smart home is one where there is some automation of household controls, including lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), appliances, and security systems. I have some experience developing them for the elderly and disabled, but rich people like Larry Ellison and Bill Gates have them also. Here's the computer display for the smart home controller, it looks perfectly plausible.

Dr. Ryan uses a biometric login, a thumbprint, instead of a username and password, this is becoming more common, but normally the scanner is a separate piece of hardware, not a function of the screen.

Following this, Dr. Ryan explains the "Deep Web", she says the Surface Net that most people use is 4% of the web, and the rest is the Deep Web which is web content that is not indexed by standard search engines. The 4% value is interesting, it could be right, but it's hard to know. It is worth noting that Avery also mentions she works the Darknet, which is a subset of the Deep Web.

Dr. Ryan is able to demonstrate that Kitty isn't a real person, but rather an algorithm, by overloading the algorithm by flooding the chat window with keystrokes, this is possible, but it's unlikely that the outcome would be as below, the skin falls off, and you can see all the polygons.

Kitty is a "computer animated avatar chatbot with machine learning, artificial intelligence", although we could restate that as an "animated  chatbot with artificial intelligence". Since the "avatar" phrase here is redundant, and "machine learning" is a sub-domain of "artificial intelligence".

Earlier in the episode, the main suspect's computer crashes. or is remotely crashed, with a load of error messages appearing on the screen -- we've all been there:

Avery manages to restore the crashed computer in a very cool animated sequence. My guess is that she is using something like Knoppix Linux, which is good from restoring deleted files and inaccessible operating systems.

She also discovers that the suspect's computer is infected with a virus that switches on his webcam. Yep, these are real, and very nasty. This is usually called "camfecting", and technically they are not usually viruses, since a virus tries to replicate into other code, whereas camfections usually just sit there. Based on the manner in which the suspect's computer was infected, using a "gift", we'd say it was a Trojan horse program, but this is real nitpicking.

The CSI's are able to trace the journey of the suspect's car using it's computer system, this is possible. 

The avatar was created from a real person, whose images were stolen off social network, Friend Agenda. Friend Agenda is a fictional social networking site that has appeared in various episodes of CSI. This happens a lot in real life, and is associated with "catfishing".

The "Gestalt theory of good continuation" - I love Gestalt psychology, extra bonus points for the mention.

The bad guy visits a Friend Agenda page 900,000 times, Avery exclaims "He DoS'ed her!" - DoS is a Denial of Service attack, where you saturate the target page with communications requests so that it cannot respond to legitimate traffic.

A really useful episode if you were teaching students about computer security.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hackers on TV

Almost completed a new paper on Hackers on TV to complement the previous paper on Hackers in the movies:

This paper will look at about 75 TV shows (US and UK), featuring 110 hackers and over 3000 episodes. I'm stuck at the moment, because I'm not sure if Seymour Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford) in Nikita is supposed to be the same character as Seymour Birkoff (Matthew Ferguson) in La Femme Nikita. I know that different things happen to each of them in the episodes, but I don't know if they are two totally different characters with the same (well, a similar) name or are they supposed to be connected somehow (in comics terms Earth-1/Earth-2 or Regular Marvel/Ultimates)?

Any suggestions:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Irish Times: Reeling in the hackers

A new study reveals that the popular film portrayal of computer hackers is actually quite accurate, writes KARLIN LILLINGTON

IF YOU don’t like the idea of a scholarly paper on the trail of hackers in films, then take it up with Damian Gordon’s parents. “I have to blame my parents – the only films we were ever taken to were science fiction and futuristic kinds of films,” says Gordon, a lecturer in computer science at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Gordon has just published his paper, Forty Years of Movie Hacking: Considering the Potential Implications of the Popular Media Representation of Computer Hackers from 1968 to 2008, in the current issue of the International Journal of Internet Technology and Secured Transactions.

A self-confessed film buff, he likes to show students clips from such films as a teaching tool because he feels they bring an abstract subject to life and help initiate lively discussions.

“With computer science you’re always trying to explain complex ideas in a clear way. Clips from films can be very useful for that. Any time I can, I try to slip in a film clip.”

In trying to teach his students about security issues, he realised many had misguided notions about what the typical computer hacker is like and where security threats come from.

That set him thinking that perhaps the misperceptions came from the upper trails of hackers in popular culture.

So Gordon set out to compile a list of as many films that featured hacking as he could and came up with 50 – which he realises is not comprehensive and excludes foreign films, but does pick up most Hollywood films since the late 1960s that fit within his criteria outlined in the 29-page paper. He excluded animated films and documentaries, for example.

He included films from as early as 1968 through to 2008, across several genres from science fiction to crime films.

His paper observes a curious dearth of films in the 1970s, just as computing was coming into popular visibility. His theory is that a lifting of censorship rules caused films to focus more on violence and sex.

“Hacking computers was probably too passive and boring,” he laughs.

The aim of his paper “was really to investigate why there is a general public perception that hackers all seem to be teenagers in bedrooms. Lots of books on hacking talk about this, but it is so wrong. Most hackers are around 30 and are computer professionals.

“Being a hacker is really not about sitting alone in a dark bedroom. It has a lot more to do with your interpersonal skills.”

His film findings surprised Gordon just as much as they might surprise others. Far from having public perceptions of hackers shaped by films, he found that the celluloid portrayal of hackers was actually quite accurate – setting aside the unlikelihood of your average female hacker looking like Sandra Bullock or Angelina Jolie.

“It’s devastating to realise that most movies do portray hackers correctly,” he jokes.

First off, he found that the average age of the majority of film hackers was over 25, with only a quarter younger than that. Some 65 per cent were aged between 25 and 50, and only 3 per cent were older than 50, which he thinks is fairly accurate.

As for profession, 32 per cent were portrayed as working in the computer industry, 28 per cent were full-time hackers, 20 per cent were students and 20 per cent worked in other professions.

Gordon notes that this actually meshes fairly closely with reality – one study cited in his paper notes that the average hacker is 27 and either a computer professional or full-time hacker.

Gordon also found that, in the films, about 10 per cent of the hackers were women, which also approximates real-world statistics.

He notes that for some reason there are far more female hackers portrayed on television compared to film. “I’m presuming that’s because men tend to do the action bits on television,” he says.

Two areas in which film deviated from real-world hacking are the number of attacks depicted as coming from outside an organisation rather than being instigated from those inside an organisation, and the portrayal of the intentions of hackers.

In film, only 20 per cent of the attacks are internal, but industry studies suggest the ratio may be closer to 50-50, Gordon notes in his paper.

Also, the vast majority of hackers in films are actually portrayed as the good guys – a huge 73 per cent, with 10 per cent being somewhere in between, and 17 per cent portrayed as bad guys. “I was definitely surprised at the number of films showing hackers in a positive light,” he says.

However, he rather likes this himself, given that the term “hacker” started out as a positive one, referring to people who were highly adept at tinkering with electronics and writing or modifying computer programs. Only much later did the public start to use the term hacker to mean someone with malicious intent.

“I’d like to reclaim the title as a positive one,” says Gordon.

Damian's top five

Hot Millions (1968) Peter Ustinov as Marcus Pendleton, a con-man just out of prison. “Really a great movie.”

Tron (1982) Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn, a former employee of fictional computer company ENCOM. “I adored Tron, and you can never go wrong with Jeff Bridges.”

Superman III (1983) Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) discovers that he has an extraordinary talent for computer programming. “A great salami-slicing attack.”

WarGames (1983) David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) as a high school student who is highly unmotivated at school but is an enthusiastic computer hacker at home. “Fixed in people’s minds the archetype of the young hacker operating from his bedroom.”

Sneakers (1992, Heist) College students Martin Brice (Gary Hershberger) and his friend Cosmo (Jo Marr) use a college computer to hack into banking systems to transfer funds. “Fantastic film”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hacker Movies

Hacker Movies
By SFAM • Updated February 27, 2006

Quite a few cyberpunk movies deal with the hacker counterculture. Rebellion against the mega-corporations by the punk-hacker anti-heroes have been celebrated Since Neuromancer. This category lists all the movies where hacking is a central theme. Included are movies like Ghost in the Shell, where hacking (ghost hacks, for instance) is pretty much standard operating procedure for the main characters, even though the punk counter-culture is almost non-existent. Like all of my themes categories, I don’t distinguish here between movies and animes (which are very influential in cyberpunk) - you will see both listed.

And yes, I realize I don’t have all cyberpunk hacker movies listed - in fact I have relatively few so far. This will change, as I’m still in the process of uploading my reviews. If you have one in mind that you don’t see here, let me know, and I’ll bump it up in priority.

Hacker Movies in Cyberpunk

* Code Hunter
* Ghost in the Shell
* Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex
* Hackers
* Matrix
* Nirvana
* Pi
* Serial Experiments: Lain
* Sixteen Tongues
* Sneakers
* Tron
* War Games
* X-Files: Kill Switch (Episode 11, Season 5)

The 20 Best Hacker Movies

The 20 Best Hacker Movies

# 20) The Net (1995)
Sandra Bullock plays a software engineer who loses her identity to digital thieves. Filmed during the fanatic years of the then-novel World Wide Web, this film is now cliched. Nevertheless, fans of Sandra Bullock will still enjoy watching this B movie.

# 19) The Matrix (1999)
This was such a groundbreaking adventure in reality and existentialism. No, you will not learn how to break into a Linux server by watching Trinity port-scanning with "nmap". But this movie is definitely cool, nonetheless.

# 18) Takedown (2000)
This is the sensationalized story of famous phone phreaker, Kevin Mitnick. This is a cult classic that is very hard to find in rental stores.

# 17) Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999)
This is the flawed storytelling of how Apple and Microsoft came to be. While this movie got mixed reviews, many people have commented they loved it. Three dollars at your video store, and you can decide for yourself if this was a good film.

# 16) The Conversation (1974)
While you won't see computers in this classic film, the theme of surveillance and the violation of people's privacy is so masterfully explored here.

**Related movie: The Conversation was re-imagined as Will Smith's Enemy of the State in 2001. The 2001 treatment of the story was designed as a modern techno thriller, and has some tremendous special effects and satellite surveillance sequences. Having Gene Hackman star with Will Smith makes it worth the price of a DVD rental.

# 15) Antitrust (2001)
This movie has some strong points about it. Two idealistic computer whiz kids graduate from Stanford, and one of them enters the world of private sector programming. Sure enough, these two programmers find themselves in the middle of cybercrime scandals. Definitely worth renting for three bucks.

# 14) Real Genius (1985)
There is only about 5 minutes of actual "hacking" in this comedy, where Laslo "brute-forces" his way into the defense network, and Kent and Mitch do phone bugging. But there are laughs aplenty in this fun B movie. Definite smile factor if you like playful and quirky humor movies.

# 13) Hackers (1995)
Well, this story was really weak, and the hacking scenes were nowhere near reality. But you have to watch this just to say you did. Plus: Angelina Jolie is reason enough for some males to rent this.

# 12) Mission Impossible (1996)
While many people no longer like Tom Cruise, his first MI movie did have I.T. and computer hacking sequences. Some good action, too.

# 11) The Thirteenth Floor(1999)
A very extreme version of "The Sims", this movie is about scientists who create a virtual world where participants plug in and take over a computer character's life. The characters are unaware of their puppet existence, but then a real life murder shakes the foundation of the game.

# 10) Swordfish (2001)
Over-the-top violence, preposterous situations, sexy women, and outstanding special effects make this a great popcorn rental. No, don't bring your brain to watch this, but if you like techno-thrillers, definitely rent this. John Travolta is the slimy villain, Hugh Jackman is the studly hero hacker, and Halle Berry is the mysterious damsel.

# 9) The Italian Job (2003)
Modern heist movies always involve some sort of hacking. This particular heist movie is extremely entertaining, especially when the supposed true inventor of "Napster" is the main hacker. At least 20 minutes of hacking footage in this actioner. Definitely worth renting if you haven't seen it.

# 8) Foolproof (2003)
A lower-budget movie about hobby bank robbers, this was a delightful surprise to many viewers. Ryan Reynolds and his friends "virtually" rob banks for fun, but are blackmailed into doing a heist for real. This is a good action rental.

# 7) eXistenZ (1999)
A David Cronenberg film, this is the creepiest entry in the list. A game designer creates an artificial reality game that plugs directly into people's minds. The line between reality and game then blurs in a violent and gruesome way. This is very much a powerful art film, and not for everyone.

# 6) The Score (2001)
Edward Norton and Robert De Niro are fabulous in this heist flick. In a clever plot to rob a Montreal customs house of some royal artifacts, Norton and De Niro must break into the security systems with the help of a socially-awkward hacker who lives in his mother's basement. Ten minutes of hacking, and 100 minutes of phenomenal robbery storytelling!

# 5) Sneakers (1992)
While dated, this movie was groundbreaking at the time, and is still charming to this day. The story revolves around two college buddies who take different paths in life. One becomes an ethical hacker, and the other...well, he is not quite so noble. Some great plot twists and comic scenes make this a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon at home.

# 4) Revolution OS (2001)
This documentary tells the story about the Linux operating system, and how it forwarded the philosophy of "open source" and free intellectual property. Not an action movie, but definitely interesting for people who want to learn more about why computer culture is the way it is. If you can find a copy of this, definitely rent it.

# 3) Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Leave it to Bruce Willis to save the world from uber hackers. Macintosh advertising personality, Justin Long, plays the reluctant programmer caught up in an digital terrorism scheme. Like Swordfish, this movie has over-the-top violence and outrageous action sequences, but if you liked the Die Hard series, definitely see this .

# 2) Wargames (1983)
Yes, this movie is very old, but it is still a pivotal film in many viewers' minds. A young man finds a back door into a military computer that is linked to the nuclear defense grid of the United States. A preposterous plot, but a compelling commentary on nuclear war and the destruction of the human race. You have to see this movie just to say you have seen it.

# 1) Tron (1982)
A classic! A hacker is transported into the digital universe inside a computer, and must survive combat as a cyber gladiator in order to stop the villanous Master Control. The imagination behind this movie made big ripples in the science fiction world, and today, Tron is a cult classic that every computer user should see at least once.

**Special Mention - movies with hackers that almost made this top 20 list:

o Jurassic Park (1993)

o Untraceable (2008)

o The Core (2003)

o Lawnmower Man (1992)

o Disclosure (1994)

o Goldeneye (1995)

o Virtuousity (1995)

o One Point Oh (2004)

o Superman III (1983)

o Deja Vu (2006)

Hollywood Hacker Movies of All Time

Hollywood Hacker Movies of All Time

Everyone has seen at least one Hollywood movie that contains (or is about) hacking or hackers. And, for the most part, the majority of them aren't all that realistic - but who cares? They are meant to be entertaining.

1. The Matrix
2. Office Space
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
4. Independence Day
5. Mission: Impossible
6. Weird Science
7. Superman III
8. The Italian Job
9. Swordfish
10. GoldenEye
11. Hackers
12. Enemy of the State
13. The Net
14. Real Genius
15. The Core
16. Tron
17. Sneakers
18. Serenity
19. The Lawnmower Man
20. Three Days of the Condor
21. Johnny Mnemonic
22. Jumpin' Jack Flash
23. WarGames
24. Firewall
25. Antitrust
26. Star Wars original Trilogy
27. Live Free, Die Hard
28. Untraceable
29. The Thirteenth Floor
30. Ghost in the Machine
31. Pirates of Silicon Valley
32. Bedwin Hacker
33. Ghost in the Shell 2.0
34. Netforce
35. Terminal Error
36. Code Hunter
37. Nichts ist so wie es Scheint
38. Nirvana
39. Track Down (Takedown)
40. The Jolson Story